By Elizabeth Lee
On February 7, 2019, the House of Representatives passed an important bill entitled Put Trafficking Victims First Act of 2019. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Karen Bass (D, CA), introduced it to the House on January 11, 2019. The bill passed 414-1, indicating the significant bipartisan support for this issue. Rep. Bass’ co-sponsor was Rep. Ann Wagner (R, MO). Next, it will go to the U.S. Senate for a vote and then to the President’s desk for a signature before it hopefully becomes law.
The Put Trafficking Victims First Act builds upon the landmark legislation, Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), introduced by one of Just Ask’s partners, Rep. Christopher Smith (R, NJ). The TVPA increased the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect foreign trafficking victims and authorized it to strengthen efforts to prosecute traffickers, allowing for increased prevention measures.
The Put Trafficking Victims First bill is vital because it takes a positive step beyond the scope of the TVPA. It enforces a concept that has proven to be key to anti-trafficking work. Communities such as law enforcement, social services, and health care providers must consider the victims of human traffickers exactly what they are—victims.
The goals of the Put Trafficking Victims First Act
- Increasing the personal safety of victim service providers, who may face intimidation or retaliation for their activities.
- Promoting a trauma-informed, evidence-based, and victim-centered approach to the provision of services for victims of trafficking.
- Ensuring that law enforcement officers and prosecutors make every attempt to determine whether an individual is a victim of human trafficking before arresting the individual for, or charging the individual with, an offense that is a direct result of the victimization of the individual.
- Effectively prosecuting traffickers and individuals who patronize or solicit children for sex, and facilitating access for child victims of commercial sex trafficking to the services and protections afforded to other victims of sexual violence.
- Encouraging states to improve efforts to identify and meet the needs of human trafficking victims, including through internet outreach and other methods that are responsive to the needs of victims in their communities.
- Ensuring victims of trafficking—including United States citizens, lawful permanent residents, and foreign nationals—are eligible for services.
How will these goals become realities?
The bill directs the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a working group that will improve the collection and analysis of data on trafficking incidences. The DOJ will have to develop capabilities that allow it to determine the prevalence of human trafficking and survey trafficking survivors to further determine the prevalence of human trafficking, improve services for victims, and generate reports documenting the restitution provided to trafficking victims.
DOJ will have an important mandate. According to Rep. Bass, as she addressed her peers on the floor of the House of Representatives:
“HR 507 is designed to ensure that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed. First, it expresses the sense of Congress that law enforcement set aside a portion of the funds they receive for combatting human trafficking to ensure that victims receive support that is trauma-informed and victim-centered. This will provide victims with a better chance of recovering from their experiences.
Second, this legislation addresses the tremendous need for expanded victim services, improved data-gathering on the prevalence and trends in human trafficking, and effective mechanisms to identify and work with victims in an effective and respectful manner.”
There are parallels between the goals of the Put Trafficking Victims First Act and those of Just Ask. The fact that a victim of human trafficking is not a criminal is a foundational belief. Outcomes are better when support personnel is given the tools to provide trauma-informed care. Just Ask believes that a better-prepared, better-trained, better-informed public can eradicate human trafficking. The Put Trafficking Victims First Act promotes these same beliefs.
What can you do to help the bill?
The American public needs the promise of the Put Trafficking Victims First Act to become a reality. Once law, the bill will be an important tool we can use in our fight against human trafficking and in our goal of reintegrating victims into society with as few disadvantages as possible. Everyone can play a role in the passage of this bill by finding ways to voice your support to your elected senators. Contact your Senators; make your voice heard in Washington!
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